Gender and the City: Reflections on Identity and Crossing the Two Year Line

By Kaammini Chanrai

There are lines everywhere.

Lines we draw. Lines we quote. Lines we write. Lines we learn. Lines we neglect. The outline. The front line. The line on your forehead. The fine line. The forgotten line.

Lines often come with rules or meanings.

Don’t cross the line. Toe the line. Line up. Read between the lines. Keep within the lines.

Lines don’t have to be positive. Lines don’t have to be negative. But in a way, we are defined by lines.

Boundaries are made by lines. Borders are drawn by lines. Lines are the twelve edges of the rigid boxes that we are put into. Gender, sexuality, race, class, religion – lines are used to determine the boxes we are meant to tick to neatly identify ourselves into these categories. But what we have learnt is that identity is not neat – it’s extremely messy and, rather than use a single straight shape to categorise ourselves, we should be allowed to scribble with curved edges and fluidity to represent who we are.


Gender and the City will be celebrating its second birthday this week. In the last two years, we have had the privilege of publishing nearly 100 articles – thousands of words – hundreds of lines – which have been written by our incredibly talented and passionate group of writers. For this, and the support that we receive, we are infinitely grateful. If you are reading this now, I thank you.

Line by line, we have tried to do justice to the topic of gender equality in a multitude of ways. This is not an easy task. There are an infinite number of subjects that can be analysed through a gender lens. Our contribution is a microcosm of what is discussed and writing about gender-related issues is a drop in the ocean of what needs to be done to actually achieve gender equality.

When we started Gender and the City two years ago, I asked the questionWhy now?” This time last year I asked the questionWhat more can we do?” This year, my question veers from the nature of this blog slightly because, in a little over a week, we will be facing a divisive day in global politics. Because in this past year, we have seen changes to the world that I hoped I would never have to witness in my lifetime. This year I ask the question “How did we get here?”

I might be prone to hyperbole but I don’t ask this question to philosophise. I ask it in relation to societal attitudes – how we think – because this is at the crux of the way that gender, race, sexuality and class, and all the intersections of these, are viewed. How are we allowing people fleeing from their homes to be perceived as parasites on our state, whilst others who were once in the same situation seem to be pulling up the drawbridge so easily? How are we still defining our state policy and funding on the narrow perspectives of historically dominant societal groups in our so-called democracies? And how on earth is it possible that a sexually predatory, racially discriminative, inflammatory, destructive and callous bigot is in the final two to take one of the highest positions of office in the world?

We are lining up to a performance that I, quite frankly, don’t want to see. We are spectators of history – a history that will no doubt be remembered in parts for it nationalism, conservatism and bigotry, amongst other things. The lines have once again been blurred around the acceptable ways there are to act towards one another. The efforts we have made to erase the lines which so clearly distinguished us from one another are undermined. Those lines are being redrawn with more vigour, ripping through the already delicate outlines of what originally existed. If I sound like I am speaking in metaphors, I confess that I am because, in truth, this is not the first time we have been in this position. This stream of consciousness is relevant in countless situations, times and places.

It hurts me how this war on ourselves has become personal. “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” This was a recent line drawn by the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May. The rationale, “You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” As someone who has consistently defined themselves as a global citizen, this is not just an insult but a dismissal of my identity. I have spent my life trying to feel comfortable in the shades of grey and, with one statement, Theresa May has drawn a line in the sand and polarised black and white even further. We are made to feel as if we no longer fully belong. We are rejected by both our homes because we are a part of the Other. As Ijeoma Umebinyuo said,

“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.”

In a time when xenophobia is already rife, we are told to hold the lines of borders in higher regard – we are told that we should erect linear walls to sanctify these lines.

Peter Singer in his work on The Expanding Circle said, “The only justifiable stopping place for the expansion of altruism is the point at which all whose welfare can be affected by our actions are included within the circle of altruism.” It seems that, somehow, society has reached the end of its altruistic line in the infinite circle. Paradoxical, yes, but dangerous more so. The contraction of our circle of altruism happens hand in hand with a retraction of empathy. We are able to relate less to those around us. We are less compassionate, less considerate for those who are not like us in some way.

This is a problem. From a gender perspective, this reinforces the binaries. It undermines the spectrum of sexuality, the fluidity of gender identity and redraws the stereotypes which we have fought hard to overcome.

If you are not already paying attention to what is happening around us, please start. We are in a constant stage of change. What happens around us are not setbacks but indications of where we actually stand. Achievements will be made, I have no doubt about that. But as the saying goes, the finish line is just the beginning a whole new race. There will always be more we can do to improve this world. That’s the bottom line.

Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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